Collections mapping – Derbyshire and beyond

An aim of the Enlightenment! project has been to find out what other museums in England have relating to Derbyshire in the eighteenth century.  Early on in the project we commissioned this work to be done and it is currently being pulled together into a readable format by Ruth Litton, a student at Nottingham Trent University.  We plan to get this information online soon, hopefully creating a one-stop shop for people interested in knowing what 18th/19th century Derbyshire related objects are in the public domain.

Cromford Mill carding engine at Bolton Museum

Ruth has summarised what she has been up to:

I have just recently completed a project to collate all the information collected as part of the Derbyshire Mapping Project. My role in the project involved compiling all the data sent from museums, libraries, schools, companies and individuals, both locally and nationally, who hold collections that are in some way connected to the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site and placing them in a cohesive form on an Excel spread sheet. The aim being that all the collected data will be accessible on the web, and when it is, it will hopefully be of as much interest to you as it is to me. Reading and collating the data has not only given me an insight into the breadth of collections available to illuminate the Enlightenment! Project but also made me fully aware of the extent to which historically Derby and Derbyshire have influenced both the arts and industry.

The biggest challenge I faced, when I first began, was how to categorise the information as much of it was sent from a wide range of sources beyond that of museums. Jane, who was the first to begin mapping the project, compiled a ‘handlist’ of many of the objects held by local schools, individuals and historical societies, all of whom had their own system of cataloguing their collection.  Much of the data also contained archival documents. Some, such as Willersley Hall, contained legal manuscripts dating from the 1600s.  In the end, I decided to choose the most basic of categories, that of ‘Object Number,’ ‘Brief Description’ and ‘Date.’ Although this may seem a little over simplistic, it did enable me to maintain some uniformity throughout cataloguing such a variety of collections.

One of the most entertaining things I found was that some of the data had almost become an archival document in itself. For example, one museum sent a scanned copy of its catalogue which had been neatly typed on a manual typewriter!

Although it may seem flippant, it did make me mindful of how easily records can be lost due to the rapid obsolescence of ‘state of the art’ software. I chose to catalogue the mapping project using Excel because it’s widely used and hopefully won’t become obsolete anytime soon.

On a final note, I can now say with confidence that I’m proficient in the use of Excel; something I’ve had on my ‘to do’ list for ages.

On behalf of the Enlightenment! project I would like to say a big thanks for all the hard work Ruth has done on this!  When it is ready we plan to upload the research onto this blog where it will compliment the research into Derbyshire ephemera that Neil Howe undertook in 2010.

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